Student Life

Mary Sue Coleman

University of Michigan- Student Life
Fireside Chat on February 5, 2013
Pond Room, Michigan Union

President Coleman: Thank you all for being here! We love to sit down and have these chats with students to pick your brains and have you all pick ours. We always try to invite students randomly to get a variety of ideas. This is really your time to ask anything you’d like. So who would like to go first?

North, meet Central. Central, this is North

Chris: Hi, President Coleman. My name is Chris Bennet. I am currently working on my thesis in the College of Architecture. It’s been a long journey(laughs) but my time here has been great. I know you and the university have an approach to curriculum that is trandisciplinary, but what approach might you be working on in terms of integrating more of North (campus) into Central (campus). What systems might be in place?

President Coleman: Y’know, we get that a lot, and we have made a lot of progress. North Campus is a lot more of a destination than it used to be. We worked really hard. The tough part is transportation really. We held a forum 4 years ago with people from all over the world asking “How can we make it more seamless to go between the two?” I mean we had brilliant minds from all over the world, trying to get a solution (laughs). We had lots of futuristic ideas but it comes down to the population density and the most economic solution is still the buses; rails are a huge cost. I have to give Royster a real credit! She gets on bus and then goes and beats up on transportation (laughs). We have gotten more buses, however, to try and make it even easier and simpler. One thing I have been thinking of also is having dedicated lanes for buses like in Cleveland and other cities; we might be able to do that. But we do have a very lumpy systems; it’s too one way. Royster maybe you could talk about it.

Vice President Harper: I mean we have had everything: hot air balloons, the ‘Dude’, used North spaces for more residences, and we have had tons of student committees trying to think of other ideas. It is proving to be quite the challenge, especially sometimes with the weather.

President Coleman: We also are working on a plan for Pierpont!

Vice President Harper: Yep. We are trying to make it more a community space, a place you want to hang out. We also thought about putting more things on Plymouth, we are thinking that might help too but that’s a challenge as well. 

President Coleman: Why is that? Do you have ideas?

Chris: Not really, I don’t live there so I don’t really know. I know it’s tough though.  I was thinking that if there was more curricular exchange that might help a lot. Like a program where students do dual programs and change schools each semester, for example maybe do one semester in Ross and then the next in Engineering. I used to have to take more central classes and the experience was very beneficial but it got hard later in the semester, with the weather and everything.

Kris: I think we should be careful with that though because a forced requirement of having a class on north might be more of a hassle but I think having a program like that would be better.

Green Hallways

Stephen: Hi! I’m Stephan. I am a freshman in the College of Engineering. My question is about getting an automatic lighting system in residence halls hallways. I’ve noticed the hall’s lights are always on but the bathrooms have automatic lights. We could be wasting a lot of money when say at 3, 4am when no one is in the halls but the lights are still blaring.

Vice President Harper: I’ll check, but there might be a safety issue with that. But I will check, it’s a good point.

President Coleman: Ok, yeah. I know in Fleming- the building Royster and I work in we have sensor lighting. I mean it just makes sense. I remember one time when I was on a trip to Israel… well, they don’t have a lot of water and other resources so they have a lot of sensory lighting, escalator starting with motion, when you step on them, things like that. It was very interesting to be in a place that thinks about things like this all the time.

African American Male Athletes Graduation Rates

Jerry: Hi, my name is Jerry. I am a 2nd year in the School of Information getting my Masters in May.

President Coleman: Congrats!

Jerry: Thank you. I am a former college football player (2005-2008). I read that University of Pennsylvania just released information about African American male athlete’s graduation rates for major six conferences. Michigan didn’t do so well and I am wondering if there are any plans to fix this?

President Coleman: We have always had good academic support I believe- good for everyone, including our athletes. One thing we have done is built the Ross Academic Center which is very easy for athletes to get to and has been very effective. I think one of the issues we deal with is 2 measures that are looked at: graduation rates don’t take everything into account- such as students who transfer- and that in the APR we are really high. What the graduation rate is telling me is that students are transferring or going onto the pros.

Vice President Harper: Once the season is over some athletes start practicing for pros and so what we did was make it so they will have all their credits before they are practicing for pros and that was a big change that has really helped.

President Coleman: Did you like playing?

Jerry: Yeah, I, loved it

President Coleman: What did you think of the Super Bowl (laughs).

Jerry: Besides the wait I thought it was a good game.

Interdisciplinary Initiative

Student: Hi! I recently had a class on energy infrastructure, in the college of architecture. It was this sort of interdisciplinary class and I was just wondering what plans the University has for any cross-campus initiatives like that?

President Coleman: We have been trying to stimulate this for a long time actually. We started in 2003 by putting out funding for departments to promote interdisciplinary studies and it was very successful. We did that for some years and then we put up money to hire 100 new junior faculty with interdisciplinary fields who the departments had to compete for. So it was really all of them looking at the same area from different perspectives. We have had some good ideas, but it is always a work in progress and I think we have made tremendous progress and I hope you have found it to be that

Student: Yeah, I have

Credit Load Woes and the next Capital Campaign

Ana: My comment is more a plea than a question (laughs). A plea for more funding for the arts. For example, I play violin with and organization on campus and a lot of musicians can’t register for the course because they have 18 credits and can’t afford the extra 1 and so we are losing about 40 kids per semester because of that. Is there any way around this we don’t know about? Maybe by tapping into our alumni? Which is also a problem; we have high registration but low retention so we are losing future alumni as well.

President Coleman: I’m glad you brought that up, we should make a note of this (to VP Harper). We are in the process of planning our next capital campaign and each school has goals and what they would like donations for and things like that. Our last one was focused mostly on facilities but this time our primary focus will be on student orgs and we need goals for fundraising. Something we could put together, for instance, is asking to reach $10,000, which could help 10 students register for this class and we could take that to the Dean at the School of Music Theatre and Dance and have them add this to their goals because the participating in the arts will enrich student lives. Thank you, that was a good suggestion.

Central Event Listing

Jeffrey: Hi, my name is Jeff. I am a junior in engineering. I remember when we had a mass email list for engineering and, thankfully, that has changed but one thing we do still have is a mass email for everything going on on north campus in this new system but when I'm on central, I can't find any list of events of things that are going.

President Coleman: (Asks out to the audience) When you all want to know what's going on what do you usually use; maize pages, the events calendar?

Student: Usually they find you (laughs)

President Coleman: Well, those are some good ideas for a place to start but perhaps something like the new system on North Campus would be nice as well.

Education Gap due to Lack of Opportunity

President Coleman: Harry, you had your hand up.

Harry: Yeah! I had more of an open ended question. I recently saw a video of Bill Gates speaking about the flaws in the education system and one thing he mentioned was that high schools have students with high talent, but people with talent didn’t have many opportunities and so this education gap we now see has been created and I wanted to hear your perspective.

President Coleman: Sure! On the whole topic of access we try to live our mission and that is an uncommon education for the common man as former President Angell put it. So one thing we have tried do is to have good financial aid available. We have also had heavy focus doing that kind of outreach and have actually been a part of a study the last few years where we are looking at students coming from modest backgrounds and how they do and don’t get here and we have found that our problem has not been the acceptance rate- that has been identical across economic spectrum- it has been getting them her! A lot of these students are rural, not just urban, and the challenge we face is how do we change the dynamic that you shouldn’t be afraid to apply, we will get the resources for you, just apply and it is something we always need to work on because we want to give everyone the opportunity.

Helping those who Help Others

Michelle: Hi, my name is Michelle. I’m a senior in engineering and I am a part of BlueLab, which is a campus organization making affordable, useful technology and implementing in developing nations and I was wondering if the university had any funding for these type of projects with so much focus on going abroad, besides not just studying abroad.

President Coleman: We have really stressed donors to help with this and would like to promote this in the next capital campaign as well. Engineering students are doing some very exciting things with solving problems without using very expensive tech and the more we can engage students the more we should so we are always trying to find the support for initiatives like this. We should always be striving to get the best and finding the best opportunity for our students. Because everyone has choices. All of you students chose- and still choose- Michigan and so we have to make Michigan desirable. But think we’ve still got it (laughs).

Child Care Policies

Valerie: Hi, I’m Valerie. I am a junior in psychology. My question is about a gap in who’s at the University. I am also a non-traditional student, I guess you could say. I have 3-yr old daughter and wanted to say thank you for the child care subsidy. Not sure if myself or a lot of parents would be able to afford this without it. I wanted to talk about the child care facilities here, which have seemed very inaccessible to undergrads. I have been on a waitlist forever and it has been hard getting kids to off campus and was wondering if this could this be changed in some way. Because the system as it is now is that Faculty and staff get preference and then graduate students and then undergrads, which by then the spots are gone and it seems like it’s kind of backwards because faculty would have an easier time finding someplace off-campus.

Vice President Harper: This is new to me! It’s a good question and we will go back and ask the question. We just went through a big reorganization of the child care center on forest because we have been trying to make them more rational and that is a perfectly legitimate question. We will go back and look at this.

Valerie: Thank you!

Campus Safety

Huichao: I am a student from China. I am a first year biomed student. I have been receiving the crime alert emails and feel unsafe. Does the University have a plan to do anything about the crime?

President Coleman: I think the campus is safe, however, that is not to say people shouldn't be lulled into thinking things won't happen. The reason we do the alerts is to make people be more cautious and we want them to be aware of what's going on and want to get the message out. I am very pleased about the security in the residence halls. We also  coordinate well with Ann Arbor police to share info and data and we have a very effective police force. I am pretty confident people are working very hard to keep you safe but we should stay vigilant. Things like not walking alone at night.

Vice President Harper: Do you know about blue lights? And with the recent crimes, what is happening is that we thought all cabs were regulated but we have learned they are not.

President Coleman: Yes, we found out Ann Arbor doesn’t regulate cabs so we said- to the city- that maybe there should be a city process for regulation and things like that and we will be asking questions of the city about what they are doing with that. We don’t want to hide anything because we want you to know about crime and to be safe. We care very deeply about safety.

Huichao: Thank you.

Descending on DC

Joanie: Hi, my name is Joanie. I was wondering if there were any plans about expanding Michigan in Washington, perhaps getting more students involved?

President Coleman: How many people were in it?

Joanie: About 20

President Coleman: Were there more men than women?

Joanie: Yes

President Coleman: Really!? It’s usually the other way around as I heard it. I heard the guys wanted to stay for the games (laughs). I don’t think we have plans to expand it. I am glad people are thinking about public service though. A lot of people don’t know this, but the the reason we got Obama here to speak was because we filled the white house with alums (laughs). They were always telling him “You have to go to Michigan!”

Joanie: I just think it should be more promoted. A lot of people think it is only for people interested in politics but I went for public health; there are a lot of opportunities.

President Coleman: That is a very good point.

Digital University

Anand: Hi, my name is Anand. I have heard that Stanford and MIT are beginning to do open source classes. Does the University have any plans to do the same?

President Coleman: We are a partner with coursera and have a few courses on there, I believe. The Provost, Phil Hanlon, just made new appointment to deal with things like that.

Anand: Any chance we will see some for credits?

President Coleman: At this point, we don’t know because those things are hard to verify. Also, we want our students to have had a certain experience with coming to an actual, built university.

Anand: What about certificates?

President Coleman: Again, we don’t know. We want to experiment with it but the business model isn’t very good or sustainable, financially. It is interesting and we want to be apart of it but we don’t know how it will shape out. The faculty are fascinated by it, they love it.

President Coleman: Ok, one last question because we are about out of time.


Student: Sorry to take the last question (laughs). I know you have really been a proponent for college accessibility, especially with your letter to President Obama about college costs and I was wondering if you could speak on that.

President Coleman: We have actually been creating new partnerships- and y’know a big part of the problem has been that state funding has gone down and so we have been working aggressively- federally and state-wise- to get that righted. Luckily, in Michigan, CEO’s have understood the importance of investing in higher ed because you all will be they’re workforce! But everyone has to play a part, you will be their hires, the university has to be effective with our own cost-savings- we know that-, we have to have a balance for tuition and fin aid, and I think people are beginning to understand how important higher ed is and so I am optimistic.


President Coleman: This has really been a great session! Thank you all for your wonderful questions. If you would like to stay after and talk to myself or Vice President Harper or take pictures feel free, we’ll stick around for a little while and, again, thank you all!